When chefs at Altitude Chophouse and Brewery in Laramie need some greens or produce for menu items, there’s a good chance it's harvested from a garden growing on one of the restaurant’s exterior walls, just steps from where their customers sit.
Vertical farms are an innovative new method of growing plants on the walls of existing buildings, and the Wyoming Business Council is now offering grants to communities to buy or build such farms.
Communities can apply to receive as much as $1,450 to purchase a ZipGrow system or build their own system, and they must provide a 25 percent cash match. They also must have participated in placemaking training before they can apply for the grants. Contact Kim Porter to sign up for placemaking training or for more information.
The grant money comes from the United States Department of Agriculture and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture.
Fresh produce can be difficult to come by in urban areas, where land and soil are rare commodities. The low-maintenance, hydroponic systems grow produce in otherwise unused space, turning blank walls into beautiful gardens that provide fresh, local produce.
In 2017, the Laramie Main Street Alliance partnered with vertical growing company Bright Agrotech to install several vertical farm systems downtown. The project was the first of its kind in the country.
“The walls – used as streetscape amenities, tactical urbanism or public art – are community engagement assets at any level. They start conversations, solve problems and encourage collaborations,” Trey Sherwood, the director of Laramie Main Street Alliance, said in a National Main Street article. “The Farm Walls allow us to dream beyond what currently exists on our streets and help us to see our communities for what they can be at their fullest potential.”
Altitude purchased its own system around the same time as the Main Street project. Chris Downs, the manager at Altitude, said the staff has been extremely happy with the system. In addition to the freshness and flavor the produce adds to their menu, they advertise the fact that they grow their own produce, and that brings customers in.
“More and more, people are looking for anything they can get that is locally sourced and as fresh as possible,” he said. “It brings people in the door.”
The vertical garden is relatively easy to maintain, he added, requiring about 10-15 hours a week in the summer season to check pH levels and add water and nutrients.
“It has definitely been worth it,” he said.